Tag Archives: Politics

The ontology of London house prices

The questions that preoccupy Philosophy students often cause them to be teased by their peers. In my case, ontology was the big hilarity, as we studied the history of philosophers asking, “how do we know that this chair actually exists?“. My science-studying friends ribbed me for examining something that was (in their eyes) completely futile. I do not have the wit to explain to them that the same thought processes should lead us to examine whether other things could also be trusted to exist—scientific data, for example.

Discussion around house prices has flared again. Right Move have published data showing that house prices in London and its orbit have risen 2% in the past quarter, and 10% in the past month alone. (These figures seem so extraordinary I wonder if we need a freshman philosophy student to ask whether they actually exist!  Meanwhile, Right Move calls them ‘unsustainable‘)

We know that house prices do not really exist in the same way that our chairs exist. They are constructs of human interaction, a rough guess at the point of intersection on a supply-and-demand graph that no-one actually gets to see. Continue reading

Malala-Yousafzai

Why I am glad that Malala did not win the Nobel Prize

I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.

Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,

Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy.  We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading

This is how to make human rights a vote winner

In the past couple of months I have been making notes on the Labour Party’s approach to human rights. Here’s a quote from the conference speech given by my MP, the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan:

What happens when you cut back judicial review? You betray bereaved families, like the Hillsborough campaigners, who can’t challenge terrible decisions.

What’s the outcome of cutting legal aid? The family of Jean Charles De Menezes, the innocent Brazilian man shot at Stockwell tube station would no longer have access to expert lawyers in the future. Nor indeed the Gurkhas or the Lawrence family. It’ll be harder for victims of domestic violence to break away from abusive partners.

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Are Human Rights a vote winner?

Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked off predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists and in the comments, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.

Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite. For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:

And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.

If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. We want political parties to admit their mistakes and reverse their policies, don’t we? Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.

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rainbow-queen

Queen Elizabeth II did not approve the #EqualMarriage Bill

https://twitter.com/ABC/status/357494803782582273

The #EqualMarriage timeline on Twitter is full of people praising Queen Elizabeth II for approving the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.  There is a strong sense of knowing irony steaming off those messages.  I feel that most of the people celebrating the new law think its rather ridiculous that the approval of the Monarch is still required.

What a relief, then, to learn that actually, Queen Elizabeth II did not formally approve the new law.  ‘Royal Assent’ is actually a procedural step in the House of Lords.  The monarch is invoked in the process, but she is not personally involved in the decision.  From the Wikipedia page:

The granting of the Royal Assent … is simply La Reyne le veult (the Queen wills it)

This matters, because we should recognise that this pro-family reform of the law is the work of Parliament and Democracy. It is not a gift to us from the Establishment.  It is not that ‘La Reyne’ or ‘Le Roy’ wills it… but that the people of the United Kingdom have willed it.  That’s important.

Benjamin Cohen, a long-term campaigner for the reform, has the right formulation:

https://twitter.com/benjamincohen/status/357502765620142081

Thoughts on the Mail on Sunday secret scandal

According to the Mail on Sunday, David Cameron recently learnt of a sex-scandal involving prominent members of his government. ‘For legal reasons’ the paper cannot name the people involved.

On Twitter, people are cautious. Many cite the injunction that prevents anyone naming names. The judgement in the Lord McAlpine vs Sally Bercow is fresh in everyone’s minds. Even guessing may amount to contempt of court.

Meanwhile, blogger Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) claims to already know the identities, while other journalists say they have worked it out.

During the ‘super-injunction’ furore in 2011 (which culminated in Ryan Giggs being named in Parliament as having taken out such an order to prevent a kiss-and-tell story by Imogen Thomas) I recall that both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph printed ridiculous puff pieces about an actor who had been named on Twitter as having used a prostitute and then taken out a super injunction to prevent the story from vein reported.. Both pieces called the actor a family man, and the Telegraph cleverly worked certain film titles into the piece that, for those in the know, referenced the sordid tale.

For those in the know.

It may be that Monday’s newspapers contain similar clues. Those who usually try to solve the cryptic cross words may try their luck and deciphering the hints and breadcrumbs buried within the newspapers coverage. In the coming days, look out for odd turns of phrase, and out-of-place or fawning profiles of cabinet ministers in the newspapers. They will be the *innocent face* of the mainstream media, drawing attention to those in the know.

This is all desperately problematic. In the next few days, we may find ourselves in a situation where the majority of the political and media class will know the identity of the Downing Street adulterers. People like me, who exist on the periphery of that world and have a couple of friends in journalism, will probably find out too. That’s if Twitter doesn’t get there first. And everyone who knows will probably tell their partners and a few other close mates, “so long as you don’t broadcast it”.

And if the group of those in the know is sufficiently large, then the privacy of the people involved has not been protected. Their reputation will have been damaged.

In fact, I reckon that I am a pretty good canary-down-the-mine for this. There must be literally thousands of people like me who work on the fringes of politics and/or spend a fair chunk of time on the Internet. Assuming that the identities are not revealed in a big newspaper splash (a possibility) then I will posit that when I discover the identities, then in no sense can it be said that the privacy or the reputation of the people involved remains protected..

This is not a free speech manifesto and I will not break any injunction. Social media and blogging are both forms of publishing, legally no different from writing a newspaper article.

My point is this – there may come a moment in the next few days or week, when there will be common knowledge facts that no-one will speak about in the open, and everyone will play along with the charade that the names remain unknown.

And when societies participate in a collective omertà, we should start to get worried.

Update

Well, that did not take long. I have now discovered the names of the people involved. My methods were so rudimentary I can confidently say that many, many people are now in the know. It will make it easier to spot cryptic clues in the Monday papers much easier (but less fun).

Update II

Trial reveals Brooks-Coulson affair.


As someone who likes to link to what I am referring to, it is incredibly frustrating to be unable to do so in this case… because I think the injunction may still be in place. I will investigate and post the links if it is legal to do so!

Good news for Afghani translators

Remember how I blogged about the Afgahni men and women who have acted as translators for British forces should be allowed asylum in the UK?

The Government has said that around 600 translators will be given the right to settle in Britain. That’s a bit of U-turn and its annoying that the media and the public had to mobilise on this issue… but at least the Government has now done the right thing.

https://twitter.com/smithjj62/status/337098382994722816

tracked-changes

Tracked Changes in the Defamation Bill

tracked-changes-first-page

Jubilate!  The Defamation Bill recieved Royal Assent yesterday It is now the Defamation Act 2013.

Watching the legislative process up close has been fascinating.  It fills me with confidence that candidate laws are put to such detailed and rigourous debate.

To give a sense of how a Bill changes as it passes through both Houses of Parliament, I have created a Defamation Bill (Tracked Changes) document.  Download a PDF [223 KB] or a Word Document [49 KB].  It is based on the successive Bills and amendments found on the Houses of Parliament website.  In the document, you can see how some clauses were tweaked, with the alteration of a word here or there.  In other places you can see where whole clauses were added and then removed, as the House of Commons disagreed with the House of Lords. Continue reading

What the hell just happened with the Defamation Bill?

There’s a little bit of confusion over what happened during the Defamation Bill debate in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, and today in the House of Commons. This is understandable, as the ‘ping-pong’ process is confusing, with ‘motions to agree amendments’… and amendments to those amendments.

The only issue at stake was was hurdles should be placed before companies wishing to sue. The pre-exising law allows corporates to bully critics with libel threats and a legal ‘reputation management’ industry has emerged, with websites and bloggers receiving threats unless they remove critical content. Which?, the consumer magazine that reviews products, often receives a legal threat after they give a product a poor rating!

In an earlier parliamentary debate, Labour succeeded in adding a significant clause to the Defamation Bill. It introduced a permissions stage for companies (you can’t sue without leave of the court) and asked them to show financial loss. It also extended the Derbyshire principle, so private bodies delivering public services could not sue when they are criticised by citizens questioning how taxpayers money is spent. Three measures in one clause.

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Please stop calling George Osborne 'Gideon'

The Chancellor’s terrible parking gives me a chance to say something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest for a while.

I get so irritated with those on the Left who insist on calling George Osborne by his middle name, ‘Gideon’. 

In doing so, they seek to emphasise his upper-class background, which they believe will discredit him.

This is both a dog-whistle and an ad hominem and a piss-poor political tactic.

In the USA, Barack Obama is regularly called ‘Hussein’ (his middle-name) by his opponents.  This is a similarly immature attempt to discredit him.  The Left condemns that practice… and I don’t see how deploying the ‘Gideon’ moniker is any different.

Worse: the class card can be used in reverse. If the Left legitimises ad hominem attacks on the upper-class, it gives people like down-to-earth, working class Eric Pickles a sheen of credibility as they propose awful policies that hurt the poor.

Margaret “Grocer’s Daughter” Thatcher, and John “Son of a Music Hall performer” Major derived similar political cover from their backgrounds – a piece of political armour gifted to them by the class warriors of the left.

George Osborne’s callous and growth throttling policies would be no more or less harmful if his middle name was Robert, not Gideon. A moratorium on this pettiness, please.

Gideon

Gideon, Class Warrior